Nicole Beharie in Shame
She's reticent, but the only character in this ode to wounded and damaged souls who knows who she is. Beharie adeptly shows us the precise moment Marianne bristles and decides she's out, but plays it with authenticity and unfussy reserve. Bonus points for the date scene, easily the best in the film.
Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids
In a sea of broad, often serviceably dismounted comedy, Byrne has the most difficult task, which incidentally looks like the least difficult task; playing humor subtly, on character as the least showy part of a gifted ensemble. An inspired, hilarious take on fermented, well-intentioned bitchery. Bonus points for the bridal shop scene. Some of her best bits and her character doesn't even have the benefit of the food-poisoning comedy to play with.
Jessica Chastain in The Help
For doing the most with the role that, of her slew of performances this year, arguably asks the least of her. On paper, Celia Foote could easily read as nothing more than “wall to wall white carpet with gold trim” and a Big Dramatic Moment™ . Chastain elevates this character beyond the vocal tics, mannered acting and scenery chewing that a lesser actor may have employed. She has it all down—the walk, the timbre in the voice, the facial expression. Bonus points for the conflicted “Thank you for telling me?” and “I really need a maid,” two of the best line-readings in the entire film.
Carey Mulligan in Shame
Not to sound reductive, but Mulligan could not have chose a role like this soon enough. Though a previous Pretentious Film Awards nominee (one I stand by), I have to admit to being impressed by the formal, superbly polished performative elements of much of her previous work while still desiring more. As Sissy in Shame, Mulligan delivers one of the best “Where did that come from?” performances in recent memory, digging down deep and conveying the longing, selfishness and pain of an emotionally fragmented young woman with heartbreaking realism. Bonus Points for: “New York, New York.” A fascinating scene of a character unobtrusively, yet clearly collapse.
Sarah Paulson in Martha Marcy May Marlene
A believable sibling dynamic is one of the most difficult things to convey. Sarah Paulson's Lucy conveys a certain exasperation and marmish exterior that is part who she is and part who she becomes when she's around Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). I love how her voice and her attitude shifts perceptibly when she's talking to Martha versus when she's talking to Ted (Hugh Dancy). In a film justifiably lauded (though not enough) for its tremendous lead performance, Paulson is an example of a truly supporting performance in every sense of the word. Bonus points for “Can you get your feet off the counter?” Nothing about the delivery begs for attention, but it's such a great bit of character detail.